Noticias Sin Filtro Expects to Break Through Chavista Censorship

A new app allows Venezuelans to bypass digital blockades through VPN for seamless and uncensored media access

People in Venezuela have a new alternative to avoid digital censorship and stay informed. Last week, the digital rights NGO Conexión Libre y Segura unveiled “Noticias Sin Filtro,” a brand-new app whose promise is to harness VPN technology to enable users to easily access information and bypass existing blocks on over 60 online media outlets and political criticism sites.

Conexión Libre y Segura has spent years documenting digital rights violations in the country, especially regarding censorship, surveillance and Internet connection. In 2019, the organization went from just recording digital rights violations to fighting them. Andrés Azpúrua, the director of Conexión Libre y Segura, explained some of the steps they took: “We have been promoting the usage of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and other techniques to avoid censorship for years, so that citizens are empowered to break through it.”

However, the usage of VPNs, which allow users to mask their IP addresses and encrypt their data, turned out to be a significant barrier to entry: in most cases, trying to read a single article using a VPN requires a multi-step process that, unless there’s a strong motivation on behalf of the user, will not be followed. “Noticias Sin Filtro” aims to bypass that multi-step process and provide a clear pathway to information: “The goal is that all the hassle of the VPN is just a technical concern that you don’t need to deal with, and that you just need to open the app to see the news from major outlets,” Azpúrua added. At this stage, this list includes outlets like Efecto Cocuyo, Armando.Info, Caraota Digital, Crónica Uno, El Carabobeño, El Nacional, El Pitazo, La Gran Aldea, La Patilla, Runrunes, Tal Cual, and Monitoreamos. It will also include its own long-form journalism with its upcoming Edición Dominguera. 

The app itself is connected to a VPN that allows it to access the censored content. Yet, Azpúrua explained that it’s not reliant on just one of these private networks: “If that VPN does not work, whether it’s because of a technical issue or government censorship, then the app will automatically look for another one”. In addition, the app does not track any personal information, such as names, emails, or financial data. The only details it keeps are the user’s preference in order to curate their experience with their preferred outlets and categories.

Noticias Sin Filtro also allows for users to read the news offline. At the launch event last week, Andrés explained that as soon as the app connects to the Internet, it downloads low-fidelity versions of each article (only the text without any videos, images, or decorations). So, if a user finds themselves without Internet or without power, they can still get information easily.

However, Noticias Sin Filtro not only includes written journalism. It also features audio content, given that radio has also been significantly affected by government censorship. According to the NGO Espacio Público, 285 radio stations have been closed by the authorities between 2003 and 2022. “The rest are under a Damocles sword. If they say something the government doesn’t like, cover a candidate they don’t like, talk about a topic they don’t like, they face closures,” Azpúrua added. So, in order to complement existing radio broadcasts, the app includes a series of podcasts like A Medias and Cocuyo al Oído, as well as the reports of Luis Olavarrieta, the newscasts organized by the Servicio de Información Pública, and El Pitazo’s Notiaudios, among many others.

It even includes a feature that simulates the experience of listening to a radio broadcast: “If you start listening to a ‘radio session,’ the first thing you will hear are the headlines. Then, you may have a radio program retransmitted through the app, or a podcast, and every so often, the headlines are repeated.” 

The app is now available on the Google Play Store and will soon be released for iOS. The team prioritized Android as it’s the most common operating system in the country, and according to Azpúrua, there are some adjustments needed for it to work on Apple’s operating system. The team also aims to incorporate local and regional news: “The idea is to allow the regional outlets to have a special section for the users of their corresponding region,” Azpúrua mentioned. However, as that continues, he is proud of the impact this will have to help people stay informed: “If this becomes massive and people download the app and share it with their loved ones, this will help to push back the restrictions we are living with.”